Children do not consider themselves cute. Of course, adults occasionally find them so, and only the most austere grown-up is immune from the awww moment. But that moment is no time to start writing a picture book. The awww moment – the stuff of anecdotes, family videos, and greeting cards – leads to hyperglycemic children’s books, which can be diagnosed immediately because of one symptom that’s a dead giveaway – big eyes.
The small, plain-circle eyes of the kid in Ben’s Bunny Trouble, by Ottawa author Daniel Wakeman and Vancouver illustrator Dirk Van Stralen, bode well for low sugar content. In this wordless picture book we follow the story of Ben, who decides to find his pet rabbits a home that is more congenial than the balcony of his highrise apartment in a polluted city. To this end, Ben equips himself with snacks and a camera, finds a handy rocketship, and launches himself and the bunnies into space. First port of call is a planet of hoodoos and giant friendly snails, followed by an indigo undersea land, a swampy, froggy world, and a landscape of endless winter. At each port the spaceship acquires a stowaway, and as time passes the bunnies multiply, so it is a sizable and motley crew that finally finds the promised planet of giant carrots. Ben leaves his pets in carrotland, drops off the stowaways on their respective planets, and arrives home safely with his travel snapshots.
Wakeman and Van Stralen pack considerable emotion into their straightforward episodic plot, and they do it without a single big eye. There is excitement, fear, anticipation, anxiety, exasperation, exuberance, hilarity, and tenderness. There is also a subtle undertone of sadness. Readers who pore over the final endpaper will see that the bleak cityscape that Ben returns to is identical to the one he left, except that the bunnies are no longer there. Carrot heaven is great, but what about the small creatures in our own sublunary world? (What is it about the wordless format, a kind of graphic novel-in-training, that is so good at suggesting longing, nostalgia, and loneliness?) Between the endpapers, however, it is all about bright colour, complicated machinery, and the pleasures of zero gravity. Readers who met Ben in Ben’s Big Dig will be tickled by his new adventure and pleased that his loyal sidekick sock monkey is still tagging along.